Friday, December 2, 2011

Can You Have It All?

How many times have you read about a woman who seemingly effortlessly does it all -  family and fabulous multi-career ? Who runs her business sporting swishy hair, trotting around in Jimmy Choos and fresh lipgloss and laughing at the antics of her adorable children playing nearby.

We've been here before on my blog with J-Lo, remember?...In the same light, Gwyneth Paltrow, 29, mother of two, actress, singer, cookbook author, mega-blogger and rock-wife has said: "I don't find it tough to make my own (babyfood). It's much tougher for me to to open a jar that's been sitting on a shelf." "A lot of people get pregnant and they can turn into garbage disposals. I was mindful about what I ate and only gained 30 pounds."

Image: Gwyneth Paltrow, Sugarslam

And Gisele Bundchen, 31, mother and stepmother, supermodel, wife to football star Tom Brady: "When my son eats broccoli, he things it's dessert." "There should be a worldwide law...that mothers should breast feed their babies for six months." "I do everything for them...When I'm home, I'm extremely 100 percent present."

Image: Gisele, US Magazine

It was refreshing this week to get a realistic picture from Lisa Raja, a successful local entrepreneur and mother of two boys, ages three and five. 

Lisa Raja at her store Iniam

Lisa Raja, 36, owns Iniam, in Oakland, my favourite store in the East Bay (and next door, incidentally, to Toast wine bar). It's a light, beautiful boutique of 1,500 ft which sells staples of Milly, Trina Turk, Marc Jacobs., Tibi and Vince along with edgy newcomers such as Harvey Faircloth, 0039 Italy and Sachin +Babi. I was sad to get an email from her saying after six and a half years she was closing the store.

The store is both elegant and inviting with Chateau-chic furniture and Tocca candles and perfumes. It seemed so vital and sales so lively that I was surprised it was another casualty of the recession. But I later learned from Lisa that sales were up considerably this year and they were closing for another reason...

The front of Iniam
She wrote in her email: "We made it through a brutal economy, thanks to the support of my loyal customers, and managed to see continued growth in our business despite all of the ups and downs.

"This September my eldest son started Kindergarten, and it hit me that 5 years have just flown by. As much I love Iniam, these precious years with my babies are irreplaceable. Though I love fashion, styling, designing and my relationships with all of (her clients) I was unable to imagine how tough it would be to manage Iniam and my growing family... I found that the time needed at Iniam was not worth the time lost with my family. "

I went in to see Lisa (she was brought up in Houston, Texas and her family is from Punjab) at 9.45am. I think she looks like a modern day Cleopatra, but she shows me the lint on her By Marlene Birgir vest, Sita Murt sweater and black Theory pants. One of her boys hadn't slept well and so she hasn't either, she was feeling queasy from a previous migraine and hasn't had time for a shower yet today "but I will, don't worry..."

Lisa Raja this week at her store Iniam

1. Why are you closing the store?
It wasn't worth what I was sacrificing. I loved my clients and the vendors, they were all lovely and wonderful. Truth be told, I didn't get that rush I once did from my work. In the end, I couldn't justify missing out on these priceless years with my kids for a career that didn't give me the unbridled joy it once did. Iniam was perfect when it was just my husband and I. I could pour myself into work everyday. I had my hand on the store's pulse and could anticipate things before it happened - I loved that. There is this pull now. A pull to play, kiss, and be with my family. This desire is greater than owning/running Iniam.

2. What was your day like then?
It was making the kids' lunches, getting them off to school, working 9.30 to 2pm at the store, then picking up the kids and trying to work done while they napped, then dinner prep, finishing up laundry... I found myself constantly making phone calls and emailing while I was with them. It was always "Mom! Mom!" and I was "Hang on a second." I was always stressed and my patience was wearing thin, they were here and there but they were just being kids. At nap-time my son would say 'Mommy, lay down with me and cuddle.' I needed that time to do emails and I'd say: 'You sleep and I'll come back.' Now he's started Kindergarten and not as nuzzly and affectionate and I think: 'I missed those five years'. I am forever in love and married to this profession -  fashion, styling and design. But I love my kids more.

3. What about hiring a nanny and a cleaner?  
I do have a cleaner once a week. We had a wonderful nanny the first few years, they were magic kids with her.  But the last one, they would try and run away from her.  It would take over a month to train them, I just couldn't do it anymore. My husband is very hands-on but he has a start-up too and is gone long hours.  I am very fortunate my husband is also my business partner. His support has made all the difference in keeping me sane, but still, the stress levels can be so high.

4. What was the most difficult thing about running the store? (pricepoint: dresses of $300 - $500, blouses $200- $350, jeans $150 - $200, coats $600-$900)
The staff (she has two: a manager and a salesperson). The current two have been GREAT! The others were...let's just say - NOT so great! All with a good heart, but they brought  their personal stuff into the store. Between wedding planning on the job or just overall abrasive behavior that alienated my customers, I felt that I couldn't always count on my staff. And truth be told, I was trying to raise my children, amidst all of it. I needed to be the leader at work and with my kids. Finding the balance was tough. When I hired my staff, I thought they would know to take the initiative to manage things like facebook - or the blog or the website. But then I would hear things like: "Oh, I don't feel comfortable with that." They were happy just selling the clothes.
5. Was Oakland a good place to have a business? 
I love Oakland, it's the hidden gem of the Bay Area and people here have a hipper, more edgy mentality. I wouldn't say Oakland is a fashion mecca, but it was a great experience, no downside, great neighbours, wonderful landlords.

6. What is the biggest misconception about running a boutique?
People think because the business is beautiful, that it's easy, that you try on free clothes at the shop, fluff and then go home. In a restaurant you see the activity; the running around, the cleaning, you see the hard work. But a boutique is a business like any other.

7. Your sales were actually up this year - so did the recession affect you at all?
Clients still had the same salaries but the difference is they are afraid. And in this area noone wants to be seen as frivolous. I feel that designer contemporary clothing is a tough market. So many big designers, like Missoni, are doing capsules for cheaper chain retailers like Target or Kohls. Between all the discount designer sites you have to really be on top of your game to continue to see growth.

8. What now? 
I'll take two to four months with the boys....and then I will do something. I love home decor, cooking Indian food and I love any kind of reality shows, all the Housewives and especially X Factor and I'll be catching up on those. 

9. Advice to someone thinking about starting up?
As women, we often psych ourselves out of things. Just go for it! There's a time for everything, my time to finish is now. It's been a great ride.

Our Giveaway today is Tocca sunscreen towelettes. To be in to win simply leave a comment. An extra point for each if you Facebook or Tweet the offer.


  1. interesting interview. I don't believe the star moms are the way they try to portray themselves. Have a great weekend

  2. Look at Giselle's post-baby body, wow!
    Great post. This topic has been on my mind lately as I struggle to work and be a Mom.
    And how refreshing to hear from a working Mom who admits she couldn't do it all. I never, ever hear that side and I really admire her for it.

  3. It is a juggle and what I would do just to get off the ride and think a little...

  4. This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately.... I work full time- yes, it is from home but it much much more than a 40hrs a week commitment. Eventually, we want to have a family, but I am wondering how I will manage it all! I really love my job so only time will tell...

  5. OMG OMG OMG THANK YOU for this!!! I needed it . . . xoxox

  6. She is an admirable woman. I get so sick of the Gwyneth types (about whom I have blogged repeatedly!) trying to represent themselves as some sort of earth-mother type when in reality they can only do what they do assisted by an army of domestic help which they (conveniently) never mention....

  7. I gave up work because we wanted a family and have never regretted the decision. I could not do the things I do for the family - even now the girls are teenagers - if I was also doing paid work and stay sane!

  8. Good interview! For so many of us where both parents work, it's not necessarily a choice, but a necessity. At the same time, though, our life works well and our kids are well adjusted. I think I'm a better mom b/c I work outside the home. It's not for everyone, and I feel that push/tug that many career moms do. As for Gwyneth, Giselle and other celeb moms, they don't live in the real world. They have staff who help them and cannot relate to what the average mom is coping with day to day. Ladies, seriously, gain some awareness! :)

  9. Love hearing about another real mom. I too have struggled with giving up my career. In the end, though, I cannot imagine I would ever feel as fulfilled as a lawyer. Mom is the job for me.

    And as for celeb moms . . . I would love to know the last time they did a load of laundry. Truly, if you don't do the laundry yourself and have others in your home daily then you are not doing it all, you are delegating. Just be honest about it! I delegate quite a bit myself, but I would never say "I do it all."

  10. Wow, this is very inspirational! I'm glad to see a strong, successful woman who also has her priorities straight!

  11. What a great interview. I also owned a retail business and it's a tough gig, especially with kids. My kids spent a lot of time at the store which made it more fun for me but not for them. Sounds like her store will be missed!

  12. But isn't Lisa Raja just selling amother unobtainable dream? Without me working throughout his life, me and mine would simply have lived on benefits.
    In fact Lisa only realised she was missing out on naps and cuddles because she had the luxury of working from home in the first place.

  13. I really loved this interview. It encapsulates the struggle I'm having, as well. (Although I've been at home and want to work but I'm afraid of alienating myself from my family...) It's comforting to hear that other women are trying to figure it all out, too. Good for her for following her heart. That can be hard to do!

  14. well, my kids eat broccoli but they definitely don't think it's dessert. good interview! hope you are well!

  15. This is great insight! Very inspiring to see someone who puts so much value into her family.

  16. What a great interview. The store looks beautiful and one can tell just by a first look that she put a lot of passion into it. All the more I admire Lisa's decision. I admire people who know their priorities in different stages of their lives.


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